There are two types of people in the world who care about the climate, says Peet Denny: Those who have devoted years, decades, or entire lives to the fight to stop climate change, and those who just recently discovered the issue. Denny falls squarely into the second camp.
Denny came to this work rather curiously. He was a consultant working to find the hidden sources of deforestation, and in the course of this work, he wondered if it was possible to simply create a rainforest. The result, surprisingly, is that you can. It might take a few years (or decades), but it would be possible to desalinate seawater, plant trees, and create a forest that will sequester a gigaton of carbon dioxide, with a gigaton being fancy language for one billion metric tons. (The average person in London, for example, creates 10 tons of carbon a year.)
“We are producing more carbon than the Earth can pull back into the land and into the seas,” Denny told me during a recent interview for my podcast, Back Yourself. That annual surplus? About 51 billion tons.
What got Denny on board the effort to fight climate change was that it was actually possible to plant a forest in the desert that would suck up that amount of carbon — 1,000 square kilometers, which is about a football pitch every second.
The easier solution would be to simply stop cutting down the rainforest, though that is a highly complex endeavor. Rainforests are cut down because people need space — to create palm oil, to grow cattle, or to grow soy.
“Fundamentally, everything about our lives needs to change if we want to remove 51 billion tons of emissions from our lives every year, and we need to do that by 2050,” he said. “And we need to halve what we are doing by 2030.”
Peet Denny’s Background: Diverse Education and Plenty of Startups
Denny is no stranger to solving complex problems. He attended SOAS University of London, and then the London School of Economics and Political Science. He attended the University of Oxford and received an altMBA in an intensive workshop. He also spent time at Stanford University and Udacity.
When it comes to work, Denny has a long history of founding successful ventures. He was a co-founder of a small web design company in Paris, and then a freelance trainer in computer science. He worked as a Weblogic support engineer at BEA, BMW, and Zurich Financial Services before spending years as a consultant for the likes of Steria and Oracle. He worked as a solutions architect at WorldPay and Man Investments and then founded Best Boy Electric, which provided technical leadership and consultancy in enterprise agility. He was chief product officer and chief tech officer at Wealth Wizards and then founded move thirty-seven, an AI consulting company. After serving as an advisor to Carbon Custodians and Internal, he founded Brum.ai, a non-profit community of more than 1,000 AI researchers, engineers, and students. He founded Potential Climate Ventures in 2020.
Potential Climate Ventures is a rather boring name for an exciting enterprise. Based on the premise that climate change is an existential threat to humanity, the company’s mission is to “find, foster, and fund crazy, unusual, and innovative startups who have a global and gigaton-scale impact on the climate.”
The threshold for personal involvement in stopping climate change, Denny said, is having a 1 gigaton impact. Potential Climate ventures is investing in many small startups who are trying to have a minimum 10 megaton scale impact every year. If 10 companies successfully reach that goal, that would create a 1 gigaton solution.
“That’s our crazy dream,” he said.
Climate Change Is Tied to 3 Fundamental Activities, and Denny Decided to Focus on One of Them
Three main activities are driving climate change: agriculture, manufacturing, and generating electricity. Denny was surprised to learn that agriculture was 19 percent of the problem.
“Growing food is actually bad for the environment,” he said.
Agriculture is no longer a symbiotic relationship with the ecosystem. Now, it has become a harmful process that strips the soil of nutrients and adds poison in the form of pesticides and herbicides. Because of this, he realised that solving ag problems could be a relatively easy way to confront climate change.
Advice for Startups: Make Sure Your Business Has a Market
Denny, of course, has been at the head of more than his fair share of startups. He has some advice to pass along to fellow entrepreneurs looking to make it: Make sure you have a market for what you are offering.
Plenty of startups have great ideas, but not all of them have a market where they can sell that. He said that 40 percent of startups fail because they simply lack a market for what they are doing.
“We are so much more at home with zooming in on the zeroes and ones and working on the hard technical problems,” he said, “but the other thing is going out and talking to real humans about the problems they need to solve.”
His solution: “Put your laptop down, get out of the building, and speak to real people and test and prove to yourself that there is a real need there to be solved.”
Denny is working hard to solve a remarkable problem, and doing so with an innovative mix of technology and outreach. For all of our sakes, let’s hope his business idea works.